A good uniform makes any job easier, and that goes for dogs too.
If you expect your dog to work for a living, the least you can do is dress him appropriately. It’ll set your dog up for success and help you both in a number of ways.
We’ll talk about these benefits below, and because there are a bunch of service dog vests on the market, we’ll help you focus in on four of the best options. But first, let’s talk about the reasons your service dog needs a vest.
If you have a service dog, you already know that they are not like “regular” dogs (and I say that with no disrespect to regular dogs – there is one drooling on my feet at the moment).
They’re not only expected to do all of the typical dog stuff (provide you with unconditional love, keep your feet warm, defend the home against the vacuum cleaner – the usual stuff), they’re also expected to perform other important tasks.
Sometimes, these can even be of the life-saving variety.
So, in the interest of supporting his efforts, you’ll want to outfit your service dog with a proper service dog uniform (essentially a vest). And while the benefits are numerous, they basically fall under one of three categories:
The laws surrounding working dogs are a bit complex (we’ve written about the subject in the past – including what you need to do to take your dog on a flight with you), but in all cases, you’ll find that business owners are more willing to allow properly uniformed dogs on their premises than those who lack “official” gear – whether or not they are legally required to do so.
Not all dogs work in high-stakes situations, but even those who are only expected to provide love and affection will perform their jobs better when they are allowed to focus on the task at hand.
A service dog vest helps accomplish exactly that, and many will allow you to add custom patches to the vest with appropriate instructions for bystanders.
For example, you’ll often see police or military dogs at airports with signs warning bystanders not to pet the animal. These can be helpful for private service dogs too.
It’s easy for dog-lovers to forget that dogs make some people extremely nervous.
Because it is often necessary to bring service dogs into situations in which dogs are uncommon, you’ll want to take every step possible to minimize any discomfort your dog may cause others.
Service dog vests and similar types of apparel can help in this regard, and they’ll often put dog-averse people at ease.
Not all service dog vests are created equal. Even some of the best-made service dog vests fail to include helpful features, and some of the worst products on the market occasionally include neat design concepts.
We’d recommend that you choose from the four service dog vests we discuss later, but no matter which one you pick, be sure to consider the following:
A handle is usually included on vests and harnesses to help you keep control of your dog. Handles are also helpful for owners who rely on their dog for support or direction. In either case, a handle is a valuable, and occasionally necessary, feature to look for on service dog vests.
There are also lift harnesses with handles that let you lift up an older or disabled dog’s back or front legs, but these are different handles from those you’ll find on a service vest.
Reflective trim is a simple and effective method for helping to ensure your dog remains visible to passing motorists – especially in low-light situations.
Even if you don’t walk alongside the road with your pup, reflective trim just makes it easier for people to see your dog, which can help prevent people from bumping into your pup or tripping over him.
Depending on your needs or physical abilities, you may want to seek out a vest that’s especially easy to attach and detach.
Most good vests can be slipped over your dog’s head and secured with a buckle, but some models require you to take additional steps that complicate the process.
Pockets are pretty helpful features that’ll make it easy to store things in your dog’s vest.
Small pockets are great for holding any paperwork you or your dog needs (such as the informational ADA cards that come with some service dog vests), while large pockets can often accommodate water bottles, treats, or collapsible water dishes.
Most of the best service dog vests feature removable, rather than permanent, patches that identify your dog as a service animal. This may be helpful for those times when your dog is “off the clock” and just playing at the park. It’ll also allow you to swap out or replace patches when necessary.
In most cases, a service dog vest will be used in lieu of a normal harness, so you’ll want it to provide all of the things you’d want when picking out a normal walking harness. Among other things, this means looking for service vests that:
Most service dog vests have pretty simple sizing guidelines.
You’ll simply need to measure the circumference of your dog’s torso at the largest spot (usually over the lower portion of the rib cage) with a tape measure. If you don’t have a tape measure, just use a string to mark the circumference of your dog’s chest, and then measure the string with a ruler.
If your dog falls right on the borderline between two different sizes, err on the larger side unless the manufacturer specifically recommends otherwise.
There are a few different ways you can adjust or tweak a vest that’s too big, but there’s not much you can do to get one that’s too small to fit.
Some vest manufacturers may also provide a weight guideline for sizing, but always focus on the chest girth measurement first.
The following four service dog vests are some of the best ones available on the market. Any one of the following should help your dog look and feel ready for a day on the job.
Features: The Industrial Puppy Service Dog Harness is a heavy-duty service dog vest that is made with premium components and materials.
It provides all of the basic features you’d want in a service dog vest, including a handle to control your dog while moving through crowded areas, reflective (and removable) patches that identify your dog as a service animal, and a pair of rugged and adjustable straps to keep the vest in place.
The Industrial Puppy Service Dog Harness is designed to work in conjunction with a backpack (sold separately) if your dog needs to carry things, and it comes with 50 ADA cards, explaining the rules and regulations regarding service animals. This vest is available in five colors: Black, Bright Red, Hot Pink, Blue, and Teal.
Features: The Chai’s Choice Service Dog Vest is a durable service dog vest that features a bit of a minimalist design.
Nevertheless, it still provides everything you want in a service dog vest, including an easy-to-see patch that identifies your dog as a service animal, a top-mounted handle that’ll allow you to control your dog when necessary, and reflective 3M Scotchlite piping to keep your dog visible in low light.
This harness is easy to put on or take off, thanks to the quick-clip belly strap, and you’ll find that it is easy to achieve a good fit, as the harness is adjustable in several different locations. An aluminum D ring connected to the back gives you a great place to attach your dog’s leash, and the patches are all removable and interchangeable.
The Chai’s Choice Service Dog Vest is available in eight different colors, including Fuchsia, Blue, Black, Green, Orange, Purple, Red, and Royal Blue.
Features: The Flow-Tec Mesh Service Dog Vest is a lightweight and comfy harness that’ll identify your dog as a service animal.
The bulk of the Flow-Tech Vest is made from a white mesh material, which will not only make your dog easy to see from a distance (reflective piping is also included to help ensure your dog is visible in low-light conditions), it’ll also prevent him from overheating when the temperatures climb.
A quick-release buckle makes the Flow-Tech Vest easy to put on or take off, and the adjustable straps ensure that you’ll be able to achieve a great fit. A metal D ring is included on the back to make it easy to clip to your leash, and the vest comes with 50 ADA cards explaining the regulations about service dogs.
The Flow-Tech Mesh Service Dog Vest is available in Red or Royal Blue.
Features: The Working Service Dog Premium Emotional Support Dog Vest is specifically designed for dogs who perform emotional support services. Lightweight and made with plenty of mesh to keep your dog cool, this harness will immediately identify your animal and keep him comfortable while he performs his duties.
A quick-release buckle makes it easy to put the Working Service Dog Vest on your pup, and the adjustable belly and chest straps will make it easy to achieve a secure fit. A metal D-ring on the back of the vest provides the perfect place to clip your dog’s leash, and the metallic-threaded patch is highly visible.
The Working Service Dog Premium Emotional Support Dog Vest is available in four colors: Red, Raspberry, Camouflage, and Blue.
Service dog vests should be considered mandatory for dogs who work for a living. They aren’t terribly expensive, and they’ll usually help alleviate some of the conflicts that arise when owners try to take service dogs into public places or private businesses.
Just be sure to select one that will properly fit your dog, so it’ll be comfortable for your pooch to wear and let him concentrate on the task at hand.
Do you fit your service dog with a vest? We’d love to hear about the one you use. Tell us all about it, as well as the basic strengths and weaknesses of the model. If it works really well, we may include it in a future update.
Last update on 2018-11-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Ben is a proud dog owner and lifelong environmental educator who writes about animals, outdoor recreation, science, and environmental issues. He lives with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler JB in Atlanta, Georgia. Read more by Ben at FootstepsInTheForest.com.